If I had to wager a guess right now on who will win the Republican nomination for Arizona governor, I’d place all my chips on Kari Lake, the former television anchor and MAGA enthusiast.
Lake exudes all the qualities important in today’s Republican party.
Like Donald Trump in 2016, Lake has no experience in public service. No previous campaigns. No policy record.
Instead, she’s running on something much more intoxicating: celebrity status.
Though Republicans love to bash “liberal Hollywood,” they also love the actors-turned-politicians that Hollywood produces, like Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood.
Celebrities, including local ones like Lake, understand the power of a strong personal brand, both on-screen and in a campaign.
Lake spent decades crafting her image as a respected anchor just as Trump spent decades crafting his as a successful businessman (even though many questioned whether his success was real or simply perceived).
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So, when she claims that “the media” is “peddling fake news,” she’s believed because she’s considered by some to be an expert on the subject, just as Trump was considered an expert on economics and business.
Few on the right question why, if the media is so broken, it took her close to three decades to figure it out and leave, or why, if the media is so firmly tilted to the left, hoards of other Arizona journalists aren’t running for office as Democrats.
Kari Lake had an audience of millions. She knows what sells.
Right now, her audience is Arizona Republicans, and the only thing they’re interested in buying is fealty to Donald Trump.
Of course, Lake isn’t the only gubernatorial candidate sucking up to Trump and repeating his lies about voter fraud. Matt Salmon, Kimberly Yee, and Steve Gaynor were anxious to share the stage with the ex-president when he visited the Valley last Saturday, while Karrin Taylor Robson fangirled on social media.
But none of the other candidates enchanted the crowd like Lake because none has mastered the god complex as well as she has.
Like Trump, Lake has just the right mix of anger, inflated ego and infallibility.
She uses a sledgehammer to smash television screens, lights a mask on fire and punctuates her messages with curse words, absolutism, and the buzzwords and phrases conservatives eat up, like “woke,” and “critical race theory” and “don’t California my Arizona.”
At the Trump rally, she asked to be introduced as the next governor of Arizona, and claims in one of her videos that, when she’s governor, “I’ll finish the wall,” a statement as ridiculous as “Mexico will pay for it.”
Her goal isn’t to bring people together or heal wounds. She’s much more content on playing up partisanship and division.
The tagline on her website is “keep Arizona red,” which implies that independents and Democrats have no place in her vision for our state and that party loyalty takes precedence over everything else, such as keeping vulnerable communities safe during a pandemic.
And like Trump, she has mastered the art of hypocrisy.
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She highlights the words “truth, courage, integrity,” implying she has these three characteristics in ample supply even as she promotes the Big Lie.
She claims to “back the blue,” while supporting and endorsing those who have attempted to downplay and deny the Trump supporters who beat, tasered and taunted police on January 6th, resulting in the deaths of three officers and injuries to an additional 140.
Lake has already won over the adoration of Arizona Republicans, and it won’t be long before she wins their votes, as well.
A number of politicos have dismissed her chances in a general election, noting that she’s far too partisan (and too much of a caricature) to win in a state that’s turning purple.
But unlike other Republicans who have attempted to imitate the ex-president, Lake is authentically Trumpian, and midterm elections in Arizona tend to favor Republicans.
Considering that Trump lost Arizona by less than 11,000 votes, and Lake is already energizing her base, that could be enough to tip the scales in her favor.
To counter, Democrats can neither dismiss Lake nor follow her lead.
Instead of playing up progressive credentials and focusing on culture war issues, Dems need a message focused on unity — not party — and on kitchen table issues like good schools, safe communities and opportunities to advance the American Dream.
They need to show voters how decades of starving public education and defunding local governments and creating loopholes and tax carve outs for a select few have kept us at the top of far too many “worst in nation” lists.
Then, paint a picture of what could be if we switch gears and prioritize investments in people instead of handouts for the politically connected.
Kari Lake may well lock up the Republican nomination, but after these past few years of chaos, I’d be willing to bet Arizonans would choose optimism and opportunity over more divisive drivel and derogatory theatre.
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